WESTMINSTER -- A newly finished legislative report is encouraging the state to make it easier for farmers who want to slaughter animals for resale on their farms.
Last year, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture asked the Vermont Agricultural Development Board to look into the restrictions placed on farmers who want to sell their meat directly to consumers without having to get the meat processed at an approved facility.
In 2008 the Legislature passed a law that allowed farmers to sell an animal, or a part of an animal, to a consumer, and then contract with that consumer to slaughter the animal.
The law, some supporters say, gave farmers the right to process the animals them selves, but the Agency of Agriculture says the animals still have to be processed at a licensed slaughterhouse.
Both sides have worked together over the past few months to find a middle ground, and the report was delivered to lawmakers earlier this month.
Westminster farmer Paul Harlow, who is a member of the board, will be presenting it to the Senate and House agriculture committees on Wednesday.
Harlow said the board wants the Agency of Agriculture to find farmers who are willing to take part in a pilot study that would help develop smaller, custom slaughter facilities that would make it safe for farmers to process the meat without jeopardizing Vermont’s standing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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Under the proposed terms laid out in the report, farmers would have to develop the custom slaughterhouses, with hot and cold running water, and they would have to licensed by the Agency of Agriculture. The rooms would have to have cement floors, washable walls, and the owners would have to keep records and be open to periodic exemptions.
After slaughter, the carcass would be taken to a different facility for butchering.
The Agency of Agriculture has estimated that it would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to develop the small-scale facility, but the Vermont Agricultural Development Board wants the state to keep accurate records as the pilot locations are developed so farmers know how much they would need to invest to construct a similar facility.
Harlow said he might want to use his farm as a pilot site to process animals he, and other area farmers, raise for local consumption.
Under the newly proposed rules, farmers could only sell the meat directly to a consumer, and could not package it for resale at stores or even at farmers’ markets.
Harlow said the board wants the state to find out how much it would cost to set up the sanitary facilities.
If the project does prove to be cost effective, Harlow said, than farmers across the state could be encouraged to develop their own facilities which could broaden the market for locally raised meat.
State officials argued that the broader interpretation of the 2008 rule could have forced the USDA to crack down on the state’s inspection program, leading to the loss of federal funding that supports up to half of the state’s program costs.
Randy Quenneville, chief of the meat inspection program at the Agency of Agriculture, said the report outlines an encouraging plan to help farmers increase their sales, while making sure USDA rules are followed.
Quenneville said farmers have always been able to, and will continue to be able to, produce meat for themselves and their families.
But he said when a farmer wants to produce meat for sale, then the animals have to be processed at one of the custom slaughter facilities.
"We want to make it easier for farmers to test the viability and start making product available to consumers," Quenneville said. "Whatever we do, we have to be sure we meet federal requirements."
Rural Vermont was one of the groups that said the 2008 law should have allowed farmers to slaughter their animals for consumers on their own farms.
Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander said slaughterhouses across the state are busy, especially in the fall, and every farm that is able to support a custom facility will lead to more local meat being consumed, and more money into the pockets of farmers.
"This report was driven by a demand, and we are looking for ways for more farms to be able to get into this market," Stander said. "We have been looking for a solution, and this is a way for farmers to find out if this is viable."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.